I’m not sure when it was that I first heard about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, but I remember that it was rave reviews. It is a vaguely post-apocalyptic adventure about an inhuman new method of entertainment involving a televised fight to the death. While it is a brutal story, it is an action-packed page-turner filled with charismatic characters, inventive situations, rough violence, young romance, family love, and naïve bravery. In sum, it is awesome.
Collins introduces us to a new world in which the United States has crumbled—literally, in some places. The new country, Panem, is a landmass between what we know now as Appalachia and The Rockies, the ocean coasts having fallen into the sea. Panem consists of thirteen districts and The Capitol. I think of The Capitol as something like 1984’s Big Brother—always trying to keep the citizens in their place by any means necessary; always asserting control. In this new world, each district is responsible for the harvest of a particular resource, which subsequently means the economy of every district is proportionate to their industry. Generally speaking, the districts closest to The Capitol (One, Two, and Three) are most prosperous; in fact The Capitol destroyed District Thirteen in a show of power.
As an illustration of their power over the districts, The Capitol televises an annual event called The Hunger Games, in which each district sends one female child and one male child—known as Tributes—to the Capitol where they will fight each other to the death. Every child must enter their name into the lottery during the ages of twelve through eighteen. The Tributes—a total of twenty-four children—are prepared for the games with trainings, and coached by past game winners. As the Tributes participate in the contest, the public watches and places bets on who will win. Sponsors are invited to make donations to their favorite Tribute so that they may receive much needed gifts during the competition. Overall, the contest is a gory show of ultimate government power and the gross public interest in reality television. No citizen dares speak against The Capitol or The Hunger Games in fear for their life. It makes a reader wonder why anyone would ever choose to have children in such a society.
Our protagonist is a country girl named Katniss Everdeen who lives in the Seam (read, “the ghetto”) of District Twelve. As the coal mining district, D12 is the poorest in the country, filled with under-handed Peacekeepers, illegal hunting, and a profitable black market called The Hob. Since her father’s death, Katniss is the sole supporter of her family, consisting of her mother, her sister Prim, and herself. She spends her days with her friend Gale, hunting illegally in the woods just outside the perimeter of the district. As the primary support for her family, Katniss dreads the idea of being chosen as a Tribute. How would they survive without her? On the day of The Reaping (the name of the lottery), Katniss crosses her fingers that she won’t be picked, only to hear the name of her twelve year old sister called out instead. In a moment of panic and ultimate sacrifice, Katniss volunteers to take her sisters place, winning herself a place in The Hunger Games.
What ensues is a gruesome display of a fight for survival amongst young, desperate citizens who face fame or death. It is essentially a game of instinct, which is something a hunter like Katniss excels as. As coldly instinctual as Katniss is, she manages to form alliances, and even a romance, with a few of her fellow Tributes. Of course, the underlying conflict is that there can only be one winner of The Hunger Games.